How-To: Teach a Woman…

You have asked and I shall answer, to the best of my ability.

This one goes out to all the men out there who are lucky enough to have a lady in their lives who is either riding her own motorcycle, is learning to ride her own, or is thinking about learning to ride. Maybe she’s your wife, your girlfriend, a family member, or just a woman who is in your social circle and for some reason or another has “adopted” you to be her mentor for her two-wheeled adventures.

These are the “rules of engagement” as I have come to understand them in my journey as a biker chick to become the best skilled rider I can possibly be. Look at these “rules” as a general guideline, as an inside peek at how us girls roll.

Biker Babes

If the woman in question is already riding her own motorcycle, there are only two points you need to be clear on:

  1. More likely, a woman will ask for advice when she wants it and ask it of whom she trusts. Do not offer uninvited advice, unless you see her doing something repeatedly that could endanger her and others. In this case, be tactful, respectful and don’t get personal. And please don’t dress her down in front of the entire crowd. Think of how you would want this to be handled. This is not the time to trash talk, poke fun or be condescending. The message will only be heard if it is delivered appropriately. Any other time, keep it to yourself. Men are protectors, they want to fix things that they deem to be broken in some form or another. You’re wired that way, but please rise above your biology and resist the urge to “fix it” or “save her from herself”. Uninvited critique on technique or style will come across as patronizing, sexist, sometimes belittling, and even disrespectful. Again, a girl will ask if she wants to know.
  2. When you overhear a woman, usually in quite an animated fashion, critiquing her own screw-ups, please don’t take this to be an open invitation for a riding lesson. We’re not exasperated or unsure of ourselves. It isn’t a sign of being helpless. When a girl goes on about how she totally blew a corner, or how she was a complete idiot for doing this, or not doing something else, she is processing. She knew she’s messed up; and that should be the key to understanding that she isn’t asking for help or trying to elicit your advice on the sly, but rather is engaging in an “after-action review”, to relive an event so she can do better next time. She is aware of her boundaries and where her skill development needs further attention. She’s got it under control and is handling her affairs.

Biker Babes in Training

If the woman is a beginning rider or is thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle, here is a list of things to keep in mind to understand how our learning experiences differ from that of the men, and how best to deal with gender-specific issues that may not even cross your mind as it is a non-issue for most guys.

  1. If she has asked you to teach her how to ride and you have agreed, you should sit down first and talk about the expectations you have of each other. Make your own ground rules to ensure a pleasant and fun experience, for both student and teacher.
  2. Implore her to take a basic riding course either before or after you begin teaching her. I cannot overemphasize the importance of formal practical training. She can learn the fundamentals of motorcycle operation in a safe and controlled environment with a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere. A foundation which I personally found to be of huge benefit to my further education and skill training. Two of the most common courses are the Basic RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the Rider’s Edge Course offered by a lot of Harley Davidson dealers. Taking a riding course will also help those women who are unsure, to figure out if riding a motorcycle is something they would enjoy, before they take the plunge and buy a motorcycle, which is a sort-of big deal for a lot of us financially.
  3. If at all possible, hook her up with an experienced female rider who rides the same type of motorcycle that she does. Women riders understand the obstacles a girl faces when first starting out and are for the most part very supportive of each other and a lot of women will feel more comfortable asking certain questions of another female rider.
  4. Be patient and let her take each lesson at her own pace. A woman’s learning curve differs from that of a man’s. Generally speaking, a woman will learn at a slower pace, but will peak their skill set above that of the average man. I’m not saying this to be sexist, it has to do with how most of us girls approach new experiences and how we work through problems and our anxieties. We place more emphasis on education and prevention to keep us out of potential trouble. Men are more apt to wing it and learn as they go. “One down, five up? Ok, see ya.” That’s how my husband learned to ride; that was the question-statement he posed to the dude he bought his first bike from, gave him the cash and rode off into the sunset.
  5. Do not pressure her about her speed. If you constantly nag her about “being slow” you may inadvertently destroy the confidence she is building in herself and her bike’s capabilities and turn it into frustration. In other words, don’t push her too far too fast. Girls don’t have the need to keep up with their buddies for worry of embarrassing themselves or being called slow; for the most part. Her speed will pick up on its own as her skills mature and her confidence increases.
  6. Don’t try and talk her into something or out of something. Ride your own ride, let her do the same.
  7. Let her buy her own ride. Period. She is the one who has to ride it, not you. Give her pointers, if she asks for your opinion, but give them objectively and without putting a spin on things. Also implore her to do her own research. The more she knows about motorcycle basics, the better the position she’ll be in to make an informed decision.
  8. Don’t let her wimp out. This is a toughie, though. When we have a bad experience and we aren’t reliant on our motorcycle for daily transportation, we have the option to take the Chicken Exit rather than working through it and conquering our fear. This can manifest itself in several ways, and not necessarily where you would think. That is what makes this one so difficult to pinpoint, even to ourselves. Be supportive, listen, and gently encourage her to keep on trying. How do you do this? That is something I cannot answer. It’s probably easier for another female rider to accomplish, because girls are more apt to say “if she can do it, so can I” when she can’t find the motivation on her own. Left to her own devices, a woman usually will either work through her discomfort and keep pushing herself in an effort to overcome the obstacle in her path or she will eventually quit. It all depends on how much importance she places on conquering the perceived setback. Not all women will become avid motorcyclists, some will find that it’s not for them after all and some will turn it into a lifestyle and sell their cars. Some will be content with riding pillion and others won’t stop until they have their racing license and have proven to themselves that they can do it. Again, whatever she decides, it is not a failure on her part or yours as her mentor.
  9. Realize that women riders face a slightly different set of difficulties when learning to ride a motorcycle. Things most men find a non-issue and have never really given it much thought. Things such as: seat height, rider position, weight of the motorcycle, upper body strength, physical endurance, inseam, body shape, etc. These all have an impact to one degree or another of how we approach riding and the kind of bikes we find “agreeable” to us when we first start out. Even finding properly fitting motorcycle gear can be a real chore for girls.
  10. And last, but not least, don’t ever append “…for a girl” at the end of a statement; unless you want to carry your balls home in a jar.

Yamaha: 5 – Miss Busa: 0

This is not fun anymore. In retrospect this hasn’t been fun in quite a while.

I want to ride these things as fast as I dare, not try and put them together and figure out what the previous owner(s) had done (or fucked up) so I can get an engineering degree online and learn to fix it. In the process I found out the following: I can teach myself mechanics if I can start from a baseline. I put a crashed S1000RR back together without this much fuss. Given, it took me 13 weeks and approximately $1300 in parts and tools, but it was a journey that was much more gratifying and taught me a lot about how motorcycles actually work. A road well traveled and worth it.

However, wrenching on the R1 feels like putting together a puzzle. I hate puzzles! You would have to put me on some serious medication for me to enjoy putting together some crappy picture printed on cardboard pieces.

Who in the world could enjoy sitting down to a 5000-piece puzzle and put it together when you a.) don’t have the box anymore with the picture on it, but you vaguely remember what it looked like; and b.) there are some puzzle pieces, from another 5000-piece puzzle, that don’t belong, but got mixed into the pile, but you don’t know that (yet).

I’m selling the R1.

I HAVE HAD IT!

That is all.

I have reached the point where the benefit does not outweigh the work put in and the frustrations encountered along the way.

I admit defeat. Shamefully, I throw in the towel, pack it up, and go home. I want to go back to paying somebody to do this shit for me, and I can only do that by returning to my roots: being a high-mileage street rider and combat commuter, who (maybe) goes to the occasional track day to keep most of the shenanigans off the street in an attempt to avoid going to jail for free body-cavity searches and crappy food.

This is the first time I have ever let an inanimate object (or a massive collection of them) beat me. My IQ will recover… eventually. Time heals most wounds. In the meantime I just allow myself to feel stupid as hell.

I apologize to Mr. Slow who has leaped tall buildings in a single bound to make it possible for me to own a dedicated race bike and has been nothing but supportive along the way. He has given up so much to enable me to chase some arbitrary dream I started having for reasons I still don’t quite comprehend.

It’s time for me to wake up and rejoin reality. I really should steal his license plate, move the electrical tape dot over one character and slap it on my bike. Although, my man would look pretty silly cruising down the road with “Rocket Girl” hanging off his tail.

Today, I am the MRS.LOW to his MR.SLOW because I feel painfully ungrateful by giving up.

Mr. Slow is actually faster than me, or could be, if he ever decided to trade his hard bags for knee pucks. But he is Mr. Slow because that’s his riding philosophy rather than a reflection upon his skill set. And that is my confession.

~*~

There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re traveling with me

Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House

Wired For Safety: Because if the stuff falls off…

…we’re not going to have a good time.

I don’t know what it is about safety wiring, but the task seems overwhelming and insurmountable and a big pain in the backside when you think about it; not to mention it is confusing when you first are faced with a list of stuff to secure properly to pass Tech at a track. I’ve been procrastinating this safety wiring project for the better of six months and I finally decided to tackle the subject in small increments.

Let’s start off with the important stuff:

The Tools of the Trade

  • Safety wire pliers: This is a specialty tool that is technically not necessary, since you could clip the wire to size with wire cutters and twist the stuff with a pair of needle nose pliers. Technically. Do yourself a favor and buy one of these puppies! You’ll thank me later. No, seriously! Miss Busa is making these mandatory!
  • Safety wire: The thickest wire I am using is 0.041″ T-304 stainless steel marine-grade lock wire, which is a perfect match for those 1/16″ drill bits. However, I use various thicknesses for different applications. I also use 0.032″-diameter and 0.02″-diameter wire. The skinnier the wire, the easier it is to work with, but due to its lesser tensile strength, it’s more likely to break. I like to use the thick stuff for places that have to be wired and are very unlikely to have to be undone. A medium-thickness wire is a pretty good all-around choice and I use it for most of everything that needs to be wired up. The skinny wire is great for wiring up such things as grips and rearset components.
  • Racing safety pins: Completely optional, but they make life at the track so much easier. I like to use these in places where the wiring has to be undone and redone quite often, such as the oil fill cap, the radiator cap, the oil filter, the rear axle nut. Pay attention to the rulebook though, you may not be able to use these in certain places; the oil drain plug would be a common exception to their allowed use.
  • Tab washers aka safety wire washers: Also completely optional, but these make things much more enjoyable. Also keep some of these in your tool box, you’ll never know when some extra-anal white-gloved tech inspector wants you to secure this or that and now you’re hard pressed to fix the problem since your drill is at home, no anchor point is within reach and your day could have just went down the tubes if it weren’t for these little lifesavers. 🙂 I like to use them where points of attachments are difficult or too distant to be feasible. You use them like a washer, torque the fastener down onto them, then use pliers to bend the tabs up around the bolt’s head. You can then secure your safety wire to the tab that has the hole in it. Obviously, you cannot use them as anchor points for safety wiring the exact same bolt you are attaching them to. That would be silly.
Tools for Safety Wiring

Tools to safety wire your bike: safety wire pliers, safety wire, tab washers (aka safety wire washers), and racing safety pins.

  • Safety wire drilling jig: This is another specialty tool and a must-have item if you do not have a drill press and have to manually drill the holes into the bolt heads. Miss Busa is making this a mandatory purchase as well! No whining. Just order the jig set when you order the pliers and the safety wire.
Safety Wiring Drill Jig

The safety wiring drill jig is a must-have tool if you do not have a drill press.

  • QUALITY 1/16″ drill bits. I mean it. Buy junk and they’ll break or won’t get you all the way through to the other side before they turn dull and useless! I’ve bought some DeWalt 1/16″ Split Point Cobalt drill bits which are claimed to have “maximum life in metal” and are rumored to “start on contact”. I can attest to both of these statements being fairly accurate so far.
Say NO! to cheap drill bits!

Friends don't let friends buy cheap drill bits! Just because it says "titanium" on the package...

  • Automatic (spring-loaded) punch:  Mine was broken, so I had to make do without; which isn’t a big deal IF you bought the aforementioned QUALITY drill bits. Tell me you didn’t buy junk!  This is an optional item, unless you didn’t listen and bought a ten-pack of “titanium nitrate” bits for $1.98, then it becomes mandatory. This tool is used to make a little indentation for your drill bit to sit in to get you started and to help prevent the bit walking all over the place while you attempt to do so.
  • Drill: I have some housewife-grade cheapie by Black & Decker. Variable speed, quick-release chuck, reversible. It does me just fine with those DeWalt drill bits.
  • Vise: You either have to have one of these or try and talk your buddy into holding the piece for you while you come at them with the drill. 😉 I use a little suction cup mounted articulated hobby vise I got at Harbor Freight. I have no garage or workshop, so this little guy is prefect for the occasional Tool Time session.
  • If you’ve got the cash to burn and the workshop to go with it, you might want to forgo the whole vise-and-drill thing and go out and get yourself a decent drill press. Way more accurate and way quicker, but overkill if all you’ll be needing it for is drilling a few holes into bolt heads to stick some wire through. Have a friend who has one? Pack your crap, hop on your bike and go see him. Don’t forget the pizza and the beer.
  • Cutting oil: If you’re trying to find “cutting oil” you’ll run yourself nutters. Some people use WD-40 to cool down their bits, others use machine oil, or multi-purpose 3-in-1 oil. You get the picture. You’ll need something to keep the drill bit from overheating and to ease its passage through some of the tougher stuff you’ll ever find yourself drilling holes through. If the bit gets too hot, it’ll break.
  • Safety glasses: This goes without saying. A scratched eyeball hurts like hell and you can’t ride motorcycles when you’re half-blind. Put ’em on!
Tools for Safety Wire Hole Drilling

Tools for drilling safety wire holes: drill, 1/16" drill bits, cutting oil, drill jig, automatic punch (no pictured), cotton swabs, paper towels, rotary tool, and safety glasses.

Let the Fun Commence

Today, I’m doing caps and calipers. Since I have a short attention span and find learning how to safety wire almost as coma-inducing as teaching myself suspension tuning, I can only handle this mess in short spurts. I already have my axles, oil filter, and oil drain plug done. I will have to write them up later. Fear not, as this comes together I will re-organize these posts and work them into a proper how-to. This is really just something to get you started, to give you time to gather up all the tools you’ll need and give you a general idea of what is coming. I will take the mystery out of this subject yet. Because this is one of these things: You’re totally lost when you see the list of junk in the rulebook you have to properly secure, some of it makes sense. Some of it is vaguely familiar and some of it has you drooling form the corner of the mouth, mumbling incoherently. “Oil gallery plugs” anybody? As luck would have it, those beyotches may be secured with RTV silicone; a girl can do that laying on her back in two minutes flat. 😉

  • Always take the parts you need to drill off the bike. Before taking them off, a lot of people like to mark their fasteners when they are properly torqued, so they know where to drill the holes for the wire. Plan how you are going to wire up the fasteners that you are taking off. Remember that safety wiring has to tighten one bolt as another tries to come loose, so the tension should always be to the right of each fastener, which will route the twisted safety wire in an s-shape between them once two bolts are wired together. Plan on drilling your holes accordingly. Some people drill more than one set of holes for just that reason, but I bet those are the same peeps who also own one of those snazzy drill presses. (I will post pictures of every secured bolt on my bike when I’m done. A pic is worth a million words and a hundred google searches!)
  • Secure the part in your vise. Make sure you don’t bend or break anything. Always wrap your part up in a shop towel or use soft vise pads to avoid damaging anything. That’s one reason I decided to thread the bolt into the drill jig, even though my vise has soft rubber-capped jaws. That’s not exactly how you’re supposed to use the thing, or is it?!?
Closeup of Brake Caliper Bolt (Drilled)

I used the safety wire drill jig to hold the bolt in the vise for drilling to prevent potential damage to the bolt's threads.

  • Mark your fastener with your automatic punch, if you have one.
  • Put a drop of oil on the drill bit and on the bolt.
  • Carefully start drilling, making sure that your drill bit stays put and doesn’t wander around. With the DeWalt bits I mentioned earlier this is not a problem, they stay put, even without a punch to mark the spot. Once you have the hole started, speed up the drill and add a little bit of pressure, not too much, though, if you bend the bit you’ll break it. Let the bit do the work for you. Be patient. You’ll see metal shavings piling up, I prefer to clean those out with cotton swabs, wipe the drill bit off and add some more oil, then I resume drilling. Each bolt took me about 5-6 minutes to drill. I didn’t break a single bit either. 🙂 Remember those “titanium” cheapies? Yeah, I tried those first. After 10 minutes of nothing much happening, I finally admitted defeat and changed to the DeWalt’s. A world of difference! The no-name bits are going to have to be re-dedicated to drilling holes into wood or styrofoam… they suck!
  • I decided to drill straight through the bolt heads, using the first hole as a guide to start the second hole. I thought that this may be a mistake and would make me break a bit, but it worked like a dream. The holes are nice and clean and perfectly aligned, which will make wiring these up a cinch, no matter where they end up in relation to each other. And I did a way better job than the ex-BMW dealer did on my axle nut, if I dare say so myself.
Closeup of drilled safety wire hole

I decided to drill the hole straight across to make it easier to wire the two bolts together later.

  • The caps were easy. I decided to drill the radiator cap from the back side, so in case the bit slipped I wouldn’t scratch up the “pretty side”. That was probably a mistake, since I had to use my Dremel to deburr the side the drill exited, which is probably going to cause it to rust. We shall see. If I had to do it over, I’d drill the holes front to back. I drilled both sides of the cap because I couldn’t remember which was the one I had decided to drill. Should have marked it, but thought I wouldn’t forget. I put the racing safety pin on the side that I’m betting on. We shall see if I didn’t drill that extra hole for nothing.
  • The oil fill cap is plastic and was done in a few seconds. It took me longer to put the part in the vise. I decided to drill both sides, because the cap could end up at a number of different angles in relationship to the safety wire’s anchor point.
Parts Drilled

Parts that I've drilled today: the four front brake caliper bolts, oil fill cap and coolant fill cap


Fear This! NOT!

Aren’t you afraid? That’s a question I get asked by a lot of people, especially women when the subject of motorcycles comes up. The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no would do the question justice. But trying to explain this to someone who has never been on a motorcycle or has never raced one around a track is not easy. The answer (in its oversimplified form) is usually along the lines of “I was scared to death when I first learned and almost gave up a few times. You just have to work through it if you want to keep riding. It gets easier with time.”

I have met a lot of people on and off the bike who have told me that the only thing holding them back is their fears, that they would love to learn to ride. I tell them to buy used and go for it. And of course to take a formal beginner’s course to learn the basics and assuage their fears to a more manageable level.

Those of you who know me personally, or have known me online for some time, or have read this blog front to back know: I have an almost crippling fear of public embarrassment. Add to that, an almost intolerable case of “performance anxiety” aka stage fright. I’m alright as long as I am by myself, but add an observer with a clip board or a crowd of people for an audience and I freak the hell out, internally. I have learned to cope with these fears. Motorcycling helped me a lot to overcome the “social phobia” aspects of my fear spectrum. It’s made me more confident overall. I don’t know why. Probably because it takes a certain level of cockiness to keep one’s riding confidence up even when something bad happens or almost happens. Another thing experienced riders know: Loss of confidence leads to more mistakes and ramps up the risk; alternatively overconfidence can also garner disastrous results.

Short and simple: Fear can kill. Especially if your instincts kick in. Many of the higher skilled riders know this. And it isn’t something that is a matter of brawn or testicular fortitude or a lack of life-preservation on the individual’s part. “(S)he’s fucking nuts.” isn’t the explanation. Not really. Not for riders who consistently ride on the edge and manage to keep their machines shiny side up. The nut jobs or crazies, the “fearless”, are separated by the skilled by the wrecks-per-mile-ridden ratio, add to that equation: average speed maintained. Simplified (overly), but true in essence.

Crashing is part of the high-speed game. We are human, we will screw up; our machines may experience mechanical failures at the worst possible moment; somebody else’s crash may entangle and cause loss of control. Every time you ease the clutch out you are putting your life on the line. This risk is compounded on the street. The track, even with sometimes insane corner speeds and massive lean angles, is still the safer place to be with less risk of a wreck causing loss of life; also the severity of injuries sustained is usually less than those incurred on the street. It’s a controlled environment, everyone’s going the same direction, there are “rules of engagement”, there are people watching and informing the riders of hazards, and the entire racing surface and surrounding areas are designed and built to minimize risk to rider and machine. Yes, riders still die. Yes, riders still get severely injured. However, more often than not they walk away with nothing but a few bruises and a hurt ego. Different game on the street altogether. But that stuff really is for another blog post.

Honda CBR600RR

The CBR and I do not get along: I had an incident in a corner that made the rear step out on me and I almost lost the bike, but was able to save it. However, it robbed me of my confidence and I couldn't bring myself to trust the bike, but made myself ride it for two more sessions anyway in an effort to overcome this silly fear that was robbing me of my confidence in my riding skills and hence killing my speed and introducing more rider errors in the process.

Let’s refocus on fear. Aren’t you afraid? Yes, sometimes. When I first started learning I was so nauseous every time I put on my gear to ride, I was on the verge of vomiting. My whole body felt like it was shaking on the inside and I seemed to be slightly short of breath. But I managed. I had to work through it, because I had to get to work and the motorcycle was my ticket. I had no excuse to chicken out and take the car. Not a luxury I had at my disposal. And I’m glad for it, because I probably would have quit on several occasions had the bike been just a choice. Eventually my skills progressed through constant education and skill training that the fear became less and less until one day I noticed that I wasn’t afraid at all anymore. Riding had become like driving was for me. Nothing but a thing, until something happened, of course. And that’s where all that skill practice paid off, in emergency situations. Yes, I had to pull over after some close call and calm my after-incidence nerves and racing heart to be able to safely continue on my way a few minutes later, after my blood pressure normalized. Now, I don’t even stop anymore. I process and deal with the aftermath of close calls as I keep on going down the road. I am now usually more angry than I am afraid. Sometimes, especially when riding fast or practicing cornering, trying something new or screwing something up which I then have to correct, I still feel the bile of fear rising inside, but I suppress it. I know I can’t afford to lock up. I postpone it until later. That is something I have learned from my own crash. Instead of being more afraid to ride, I am actually more in control of my natural responses that come with fear. I can recognize it sooner and halt the process before my brain tells my body to do something stupid, like getting on the brakes hard while leaned over in a corner already close to the edges of my traction envelope; or snapping the throttle shut, or staring at the very thing that I’d like to avoid. All these are normal human reactions to the stress caused by imminent danger (perceived or real). Our survival instincts kick in and our brain wants to do what it thinks will preserve our life, running purely on instinct; but on a motorcycle all those intuitive reactions are mostly wrong.

Overcoming fear and doing the right thing to keep the motorcycle from crashing is an acquired skill. It is learned behavior. It is muscle memory and applicable knowledge overriding our fears to enable us to give the machine what it needs to do its thing to keep us out of trouble. It takes knowledge in the physics involved in the sport and it takes repetitive training to overcome our natural impulses to save our skin.

My husband once told me, after seeing me run through some twisties on my Hayabusa in northern Georgia, that I make it look so easy and that this is the very fact that scares the hell out of him. He said I looked fearless. He said that sometimes I was leaning so hard he thought I’d drag tailpipe (a sign of things to come?) He said I was so fast he couldn’t even comprehend it and he’d been riding for seven years. I laughed and told him that I almost crapped myself on several occasions when I screwed something up or thought I was going in too fast, was too hard on the brakes, going off line, or forgetting to look through the turn, or simply fixating on one of my reference markers for far too long.

Fear is inevitable in motorcycling. To one degree or another we all experience it on more or less frequent occasion. The only thing you can do to combat your fears and minimize the effect they have on the probability to get yourself out of trouble unharmed: Work through them, armed with knowledge and application of skill. There are plenty of good books on the subject and formal skill training is also available for different skill levels.

Suzuki GSX-R600

I'm a Gixxer girl. The GSX-R600 is but a baby Hayabusa. I'm used to it, I put over 17K miles on the clock riding a Hayabusa. I trust this machine, I know what it needs, know what it is telling me. I'm much more confident here, as is evident by my body position. Not as tentative, more focused on the task, rather than the machine.

Fear should not be crippling, fear should be a tool you use to gauge your progress, pinpoint your weaknesses, and let it be the governor to modulate the inherent human tendency to engage in squidly (unsafe, ill-advised but oh-so-fun) behaviors. Does “let’s see what she can do?” sound familiar? Fear can lead to a definite savings in road rash and touch-up paint if you can manage it properly and use it to your advantage.


Progression, Peer Pressure and The Need for Speed ~ Part 3

So, you’ve thought about it. Been honest with yourself. Tried to really figure out what it is about that dream bike of yours that makes it your dream bike. You (hopefully) did some more research, read more professional reviews or at least have talked to some grumpy old farts to hear their opinions. Why the old farts? Simple. They’re still alive, still riding, and have heaps more experience than you, your buddies and their buddies combined. Next time you see a 60-some year-old geezer power a wheelie out of a corner exit, smoothly set it down and be on their merry way, you think about that. =D Those are the people with the skill, those are the people who’s opinion you should seriously consider. But I digress.

You, by now, have figured out that you can afford the loan payments (and not just the minimums if you’re looking at a revolving account aka credit card financing). You can afford the insurance premiums, since you’ve shopped around for the best deal; and you even have money left over for the inevitable maintenance and can even afford a tire or two and maybe a chain and some sprockets when the time comes. You even have scoped out a dealer within a reasonable driving distance that’ll give you a fantastic deal OTD (out the door). You have a buddy lined up to drive the thing home for you (that right there should give you pause, especially if we’re talking a $14,000+ MSRP bike). You are ready to rock the rocket. Here are a few more items that might be of importance:

 

  • The throttle goes both ways. Manageable power in mature (and we are not talking age here) hands and used with a somewhat intelligent brain is just that: manageable. An idiot can manage to kill himself on anything. If it has two wheels and an engine, they’ll find a way.
  • A motorcycle is a very stable machine, if you keep the rider off of it. 😉
  • Start reading now. Educate yourself. Knowledge is power. And power demands knowledge. Take (at the bare minimum) the MSF Basic Rider Course before you pick up your scoot. Hell, if you do that, you can even drive it home your-damned-self. Which is way more awesome than having somebody else put the first miles on the clock. Don’t be the douche who wrecks it in the dealer’s parking lot either. Go out and buy a book or two. Good choices: Total Control by Lee Parks and A Twist of The Wrist II by Keith Code. READ them! Practice what they teach!
  • What you don’t know can kill you. If you ever think you know it all, go back to learning. You’re on dangerous ground.
  • Motorcycling is 90% mental. Think when the key is in the ignition. That means turn your brain on before you put the bike in gear! Always, always, always give the ride your full concentration. When your head isn’t in the game anymore get your ass out of the saddle. As you progress, riding will take less and less of your brain power. But when you are beginning, you better have your A-Game on. Always!
  • Instead of practicing wheelies with your buddies, how about practicing quick stops? Or counter-steering? What about cornering lines? You instead could be educating yourself on what to do when your rear wheel loses traction or when the front wheel does. Still wanna do wheelies, eh? Fine. But if you can’t even manage to control the inevitable slide due to the inevitable screwup (we’re all human you know), you don’t have the throttle/clutch/brake control it takes to do a wheelie and set it down properly. Learn to crawl before you fly.
  • Know that the learning curve is increasingly steep with the increase of the bike’s power delivery and how manageable it is; some bikes are more forgiving than others. For example: The torquier the bike is, the more unforgiving it is to ham-fisted throttle inputs.
  • Plastics are expensive. And I mean that in every sense of the $$$. Drop a naked bike, be pissed off over a few scratches, maybe a broken off lever. Drop a fully faired bike, be pissed off over a broken off lever and hundreds of dollars in repairs AND you get to ride around looking like an idiot with your plastics rashed up while you wait for the Color Rite touch-up paint to arrive in the mail. There’s always duct tape…
  • Remember those Gixxer-riding buddies I mentioned earlier? Don’t try and keep up. Guaranteed you’ll be riding over your head in no time and that will end very poorly for you. I’ve seen it happen to several people. One of them pops wheelies like there’s no tomorrow, but he can’t take a corner to save his ass, literally. Learn at your own pace, or that brand-new S1000RR, 1198S, or F4 is going to be sitting in a shop somewhere waiting on replacement bits to come in from overseas. And you’re out of a ride, an insurance deductible and into a rate increase and a bruised ego.

 

Oh, and buy some decent gear and wear it, too.

In closing, may I add: There is a reason why in so many countries peeps can’t go out and throw their leg over just anything they desire. They have graduated licensing programs. Meaning, before your ass gets to look cool on that Hayabusa, you’re gonna have to scoot around on a 125cc for a while, then a 250cc, etc… and work up to “looking badass”. I’m not a proponent of that system. I believe, as Americans, we have the fundamental right to go ahead and try killing ourselves on whatever damn bike we choose. However, you better have the skill to not get me involved in your suicidal plans. Which brings me to group riding:

Don’t. Not until you have at least the basics down. And if you must, insist on being in the front of the pack, that at least gives the more experienced riders a chance to stay out of your trouble. 🙂

Take the peer pressure out of your progression. Take your progression seriously and the speed to satisfy the need will inevitably follow. All in its time and at your individual pace. It is up to you how hard you make the journey on yourself. Buy your own ride. Ride your own ride.


Progression, Peer Pressure and The Need For Speed ~ Part 2

In my experience, the question gets posed by those who have (more or less) already made up their mind, but want someone they deem more experienced tell them they are not screwing up by going through with the purchase of aforementioned object of drooling desire. It seems to be a quest for acknowledgement rather than a fact finding mission. Some will also argue the point once given an answer they didn’t want to hear. I have never gotten into the middle of these “debates”. My philosophy is simple: Be truthful with yourself and buy what you want, not what you think you want due to outside factors. Don’t get it? Here’s an example: “All my friends ride Gixxer 1000’s, I really dig the CBR600RR, but everybody says this bike sucks due to [whatever the stated reason] and that they wouldn’t get anything but a GSX-R. You end up with a GSX-R1000. The bike you wanted? Could turn into it, who’s to know. More likely scenario? You’ll sell it and get what you really want, if you live long enough.”

Harsh, huh? Yes. It is. Motorcycle choices are something that should be extremely personal and the bike you end up riding should fit you, not a preconceived notion of what you are if you owned such and such bike. That’s advertising hype, that’s peer pressure, that’s not what you need. Hence, the question should be: What do I need in a bike? Not what do I want. I want a Ducati Desmosedici. Am I ever going to get one? No. Simple: I can’t afford one and I wouldn’t like it, even if it would make me famous around these parts: “That chick rides a fuggen Desmo. Holy hell!” Totally speaks to my ego, does not speak to my riding style (or rather skill) nor my wallet.

But since this question does not have a real answer, here are the factors, as I see them, that have to be considered. Of paramount importance, and I can’t stress this enough, is that you are honest with yourself. Forget what the media has told you, forget what your friends ride, forget all of that and look at yourself and what you need and what you want and find that compromise between those two poles.

 

  • What kind of rider are you? If you are looking at your first motorcycle purchase, you won’t know this. Never mind all your literbike riding buddies. You maybe surprised what you find out after you’ve had some seat time and put some miles on the clock. If you give in to peer pressure and buy what everybody else is riding, you are setting yourself up for failure. The best advice I can give: Buy used. More often than not you’ll be looking at something else not too long into the distant future anyway. Why? A load of things that hadn’t factored into the original decision: Ergos too uncomfortable, throttle response too jerky, the damned thing has a cranky gearbox, the clutch is finicky, the handling is too quirky, and the list goes on. Some of these things can be tweaked, or fixed with aftermarket parts. Some of them you adjust to and cope with. Some will force you to go looking elsewhere.
  • What is your skill level? Be honest here. Be objective. Who am I kidding? Scratch that… take some formal training, it’ll save you skin and plastics later. And no matter how good you think you are, there’s always something left to learn.
  • Ride it like you can fix it. Can you even afford your dream bike? Those $69 payments aren’t going to pay that sucker off in 60 months, and chances are the interest rate goes way up eventually. Squint and read the fine print. Can you afford the maintenance and upkeep? How long is the warranty? Does it void the warranty if you don’t come in for your scheduled maintenance? Can you do a lot of the stuff yourself? Again, it might just be better to buy used at this point, if you’re unsure.
  • Ensure insurance. Can you even afford the insurance premium? If you buy new you’ll need full coverage in the overwhelming majority of the cases. Get the VIN from the dealer and call your insurance company. Get a quote. If you don’t, you might end up with a severe case of “sticker shock” and a new dedicated track bike. I called my agent with a Hayabusa VIN once, my husband had to stand by with the de-fib unit and at the time I did have a clean driving record and was completely claim-free.

And that’s just the beginning… these questions pretty much help you determine the type of machine, its power and handling characteristics, and its price range.

Think on that for a while… mull it over. And quit thinking “…yeah, but…”!


Progression, Peer Pressure and The Need For Speed ~ Part 1

“Is [insert make and model of massive-torque, ridiculous-bhp, stupid-fast late-model sport bike here] a good choice for a beginner?” is a question I seem to be asked more frequently than I would think. Another version of pretty much the same question goes somewhat like this: “Which one is better for a beginning rider? [insert silly-fast bike 1] or [insert ridiculous killing-machine 2]?”

This is a highly-debated, hugely controversial topic online. There are but a few topics that set a thread ablaze with a flamewar quicker than the newbie wanting to lay their hands on a motorcycle that is deemed “experts only”. If you don’t believe me, go to a Hayabusa forum and start a thread along the lines of “Is the Hayabusa a good bike for a beginner?” Wait, you don’t have to, there’s already one there. Take it to any sportbike forum, you’ll get pretty much the same results. This question has earned the rotten smell of troll in most forums, due to its high volatility.

The last time I was asked the question, I just shrugged and commented that I am not the person to ask since my second bike was a Hayabusa. For the longest time I didn’t tell anybody (online or iRL) that I was a Harley-Davidson convert, 4,000-mile beginner straddling that monster of a machine. They all assumed what they wanted and I did not correct them. When directly asked, I sidestepped the question with “long enough”.

What is the best bike for the beginning rider lusting after more or different? Depends on who you are. There is no standard cookie-cutter answer that can be given to each person posing this question. The correct answer depends on a variety of factors. But in the end you are the one who has to ride their own ride, deal with the consequences of your choices, and answer this question for yourself honestly and without a “yeah, but…”.

The answer then? Forty-Two.

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[longish pause]
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[just kidding… sort of…]

Think about it. Stay tuned for more…

In the meantime, here is a related post from way back when in another life in a parallel universe: Skill Levels and Motorcycle Choices.